I always keep a bag packed and ready to go. Its safe to say that I hike roughly 15 miles a week, weather permitting. That may sound like a ton of walking, but if you break it up into 3 miles per day at 5 days a week, its a piece of cake. Thats just what I fit in while I'm at home and not traveling around the country. I'm fortunate to live in a city blessed with thousands of acres of public parks and forests within a 30 minute drive. Not to mention that my place backs up to a State Park, I really have zero excuse to not get out there and hit the trails for a little R&R. With all that being said, it makes things a lot easier to keep a bag packed near your front door or in your car. As much as I fancy all the high tech and premium outdoor swag that you could spend a ton of cash on, I keep my gear pretty simple and straight forward. If I cant pick it up at a nearby store, I don't use it. Save your money for taking a trip and chose some off brand items to round out your pack and your wallet will be thanking you later. I've compiled a list of the things that I never hit the trails without. This list is primarily for day backpacking. As you venture out into the back country on your longer journeys one will naturally need not only more stuff, but different gear all together. Here we go!
Day Hiking Essentials
This is your primary piece of gear for day hikes. It should have 10-20 liters of carrying capacity. Something similar to a large school backpack with 3-5 compartments for storage.
If you're going to drop some cash on one piece of gear, do it on shoes. The right boots or trail shoes can make or break your hike. I tend to favor medium boots that rise just above the ankle for more support. Lighter trail shoes and sandals have their place, but I like the flexibility that an overall great medium boot offers. Chose one that comes with a Vibram sole, they're nearly indestructible and offer a ton of grip on slippery surfaces.
I learned this lesson the hard way in my days of scouting. Always carry an extra pair of socks! This is especially important on hikes during the winter when snow pack gets into your boots and slowly melts causing your socks to get wet and feet to freeze. Even during the summer, you might have to attempt a small stream crossing that might leave you wading through water. Hiking with wet feet leads to blisters fast, even on the shortest of hikes.
Do yourself a favor and pack a rain jacket, light shell, or even a thick sweater. Even with the weather forecast being available at our fingertips, mother nature always has her own plans. Throw in a beanie or ball cap. You'll be glad you did.
Most professionals recommend carrying 2 liters of water per person. At the very least you should be carrying a sturdy, BPA free water bottle. You should take it a step further and pick up a water reservoir insert. They're available at most big box stores for around $20. I keep my reservoir insert inside a plastic bag, in the first pocket of my backpack, with the tube pulled through the zipper. Its not fancy, but it works and is conveniently located within reach.
Don't get hangry while you're out on the trails. Peanut butter crackers, pretzels, energy bar..... you get the point.
Always carry a first aid kit, no if's, and's, or but's. Even if you don't get hurt, you might come across someone who might be in need of help. Any kit with band aids, gauze, disinfectant, tweezers, and ointment will do. Through the years I have built my own kit to include: fishing line, utility cord, hook, soap, lip balm, lighter, waterproof matches, fire starter, tape, bandana, safety pins, flashlight, pocket knife, multi tool, floss, anti diarrhea pills, and TUMS.
Cell phone service is not always reliable even in a city park. Always carry a map of the park you're hiking in with marked trails and distances. Do yourself a favor and get a compass. My local Target carries them for around $12. Map reading is an art form of its own, but just knowing which way is which can be a godsend when you're lost and cant find your way out of a forest. This leads me to my next tip; carry a pen and small notepad. Having the ability to leave a note somewhere visible when you're lost will raise the likelihood that someone will find you faster. Take it a step further and carry a whistle.
- Toilet Paper
Do you really want to wipe with leaves?!
These are all items I carry in my daypack on all of my trips. Obviously, the exact items you take can be tailored to your trip. Expensive, name brand equipment is not always necessarily better or even needed. I LOVE my hatchet, but on the dozen trips I carried it with, I used it ZERO times so now it stays in the car. Losing that extra 5 lbs makes a huge difference. My light and bubbly Patagonia jacket was one the best jackets I've ever owned, but when it was torn and unsalvageable, I hesitated buying another one at $200. I came across a similar jacket at Costco for only $40 and to be honest, I cant tell a big difference between the two. So start out small with the bare essentials and as you gain experience you will be able to adjust your gear for what you actually need. I hope this was helpful and if you think I missed something, please leave me a comment below and give us your two cents. Now get out there and Wander More!
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